Key Take-Homes from the KidLitVic 2017 Workshop: ‘It’s All About Your Brand’, presented by Lisa Berryman, HarperCollins Publishers Australia
Well, it’s two weeks since I attended the Branding Workshop at KidLitVic2017 in Melbourne, and I’ve purposely waited until now to share my key ‘take-homes’ – as I wanted to action them and show just how powerful the information presented was. Apart from the overriding message that a writer is a small business and that you should at all times conduct yourself and present yourself as one, and NEVER EVER do anything to damage your business or brand, there were two salient points that I needed to take action on ASAP. So here goes…
1. What is your Brand Message?
You need to be able to crystallise and drill down into one SHORT tagline: your interests in writing + what it is you write + what’s special about you. Some excellent examples were given by workshop participants, my favourite being, “Exploring Big Worlds Through Little Eyes.”
I was not communicating a clear, concise brand message about my picture book writing to publishers in my submission letters, and I needed to action this ASAP. So I literally went home after the conference and started the challenging task of filtering down all the elements of my picture book writing into one catchy tagline. It took a LONG time – involving self-reflection and really standing back from my work and analysing it. As well as spending time thinking about just what kind of writer I ‘think I am’ and making sure that it matched what I’m actually producing.
Once I’d got my short list, I employed the services of my 13 year-old son – he of the Snapchat-Nike-millennial generation – to give his opinions. He was a hard task master! With most of my early attempts yielding responses like, “Too long; Too boring; Just No; That’s Lame; Boring; Too long (AGAIN!); Don’t get it; Kind of OK; Yehhh…but Nah…” until I got to the finally approved “Yes” and here it is:
And then, Lisa suggested that you can add just a few more words in your cover letters, by way of weaving in comparisons, to give the publisher a really good feel for where your writing and your books are positioned – especially useful for sales, marketing and booksellers. Here’s my long form:
‘Feel-good rhyming adventures, with the wisdom of Bob Graham and the energy of Julia Donaldson and Dr Seuss.’
Phew…now to the final task…
2. Does Your Email Signature Sell Your Business and Brand?
This is the one area of the Branding Workshop that I gave myself a big fat FAIL on! For the benefit of not writing a long and boring blog, I’ve tried to summarise the salient points from Lisa’s presentation in a one-page graphic, which shows EXACTLY how my email signature looked on the day of the workshop; and then, how it looked after I gave it Lisa’s WHO, WHAT, WHY, WHERE and HOW transformation. It’s quite embarrassing to look at the comparisons – What was I thinking? That publishers were mind readers?! The ’30 second test’ is something that I made up – Lisa didn’t specifically spell it out, but it was definitely the vibe that I picked up on. Oh, and yes, Lisa really did single out the lovely Tania McCartney as having a truly wonderful and professional email signature and brand message – it had lots of links, pictures and a clear outline of all that she is involved in.
Well, that’s it folks. I hope you find it useful. The workshop was certainly the best $40 I’ve spent in a very long time!
Oh, how I love it when my worlds collide in the most unexpected ways! I’d like to share with you a beautiful experience I had early last December during my day volunteering at a Melbourne children’s hospital library. But first some background…
Being a writer is a very solitary existence. So in early 2016, I made a resolution to reach out to the big wide world – both ‘real’ and ‘cyber’ – with more literary outings and professional development, plus a complete revamp of my online ‘author presence’. Cue attendances at some brilliant writing courses and seminars; conducting classroom writing workshops; and the emergence of ‘Emmabowdauthor’ across several online platforms – with the pleasant realisation that Facebook was actually quite interesting and informative, and Instagram was my new passion/obsession 🙂 But there was more to come…
Prior to becoming a writer, I worked as an Occupational Therapist for 12 years – both in Australia and London. Imagine my excitement one Sunday evening early last year when I was scrolling through Instagram and saw a ‘shout out’ by the highly respected Melbourne children’s bookstore the ‘Little Bookroom’, about a new children’s library called The Book Bunker, which was being established at Melbourne’s prestigious Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH) – and it needed volunteers. This perfect meeting of my worlds was too good to be true. A few emails, plus a hurried update of my ‘Police Check’ and ‘Working With Children’ accreditation and I was at RCH within the fortnight – volunteering each Tuesday from 10am to 2pm at The Book Bunker. And what a wonderful year it proved to be!
The Book Bunker – The Scholastic Children’s Library at Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne
The Book Bunker at RCH opened in May 2016 with over $200,000 worth of books donated by Scholastic Australia, covering all age ranges from board books and picture books; to early readers, chapter books, young adult novels and non-fiction books. It’s staffed entirely by volunteers like myself. And while I come from a medical/literary background, other volunteers come from fields such as librarianship and teaching, and we’re all on a roster which keeps the library open from Monday through to Saturday.
Why a Library in a Children’s Hospital?
My experiences at The Book Bunker have reinforced to me the importance of access to books via a free library system for ALL children (both sick and well) as a source of entertainment, diversion, intellectual enrichment and socialization. And I can honestly say that no week at The Book Bunker has ever been the same.
For mentally and physically exhausted parents, a visit to The Book Bunker is often a quiet bubble of calm away from the flashing lights and beeping monitors of the ward. A place where they can select books to take back to their child; as well as to share with other siblings who can often become momentarily neglected, through no fault of their own, in the stressful situation of having a sick family member. The books that parents and children choose are often long-time favourites which bring a small sense of 'home' and familiar routines to the foreign medical environment.
Book Bunker volunteers also deliver books directly to the wards via a 'book trolley' for the many children and families who cannot leave their rooms and visit the library. On other occasions, the library can be a loud and raucous space - with craft activities and book readings to large groups of children. And thanks to Scholastic, we were lucky enough to have a special visit from famous author Mem Fox and illustrator Judy Horacek - which created much fanfare and fun throughout the hospital.
A Special Summer’s Day at The Book Bunker
A summer’s day at The Book Bunker doesn't get much better for this former Occupational Therapist turned writer and literary hospital volunteer...
During the summer I’ve noticed a lot more families visiting The Book Bunker – often with multiple siblings in tow, due to the school holidays. Many have travelled long distances from country Victoria or from interstate to be cared for as Inpatients or to attend Specialist Outpatient Clinics (with notoriously long waiting times).
Last year, on Melbourne’s first true summer’s day, following our Arctic spring, the thermometer outside nudged the mid 30’s and I welcomed a dad and his 1 year-old and 6 year-old sons to The Book Bunker. He told me in precise, slow, heavily-accented English that they’d just come from a town west of Geelong, and were all a little hot and weary after a very early start to the day. But they were all smiling – surprised and delighted to have stumbled upon a ‘library in a hospital’. A place that they immediately decided to spend the long wait for the older boy’s Outpatient’s appointment.
The 6 year-old boy gleefully told me that he had just finished Prep and that he really liked books. His face lit up as he walked around and found that his favourite books from his 'school library' were also in his 'hospital library'. He couldn’t believe his luck! Tucking each book under his arm, he asked me to read some of them to him; before summoning the courage to ask if he could instead read the books to me.
“I’m very good at reading,” he said, with the unaffected conviction of a 6 year-old. “I’m the first in my family to go to school. I’m very clever.” He shot a grin to his dad who replied in equal measure with a warm wide smile, which seemed to engulf his entire face, and proud eyes which danced around his son. The dad shared that he had come to Australia 7 years ago from Sudan, and that his son is a very diligent student at school who also teaches the entire family how to speak English.
Then, in a rush of excitement, the dad picked up his mobile phone and gave it to the boy to show me the screen. Displayed on it was his son’s recent school report from Prep. Both the boy and the dad insisted that I read it – I must! They could not contain their excitement as they observed my eyes scanning the screen. And I have to say that their excitement was entirely warranted – an achieved reading level of Year 2 among the accomplished results. The dad had the report as his screen saver on his mobile phone. And I have no doubt that it had been shown to many people before me; and will be shown again to many people after me.
With a small mountain of books read; inquisitive questions about bears, dinosaurs, piranhas, dogs, bees and escargots answered; a toddler occupied with craft activities and board books; and a dad rested – a piercing beep on the mobile phone announced that their doctor was ready to see them. A quick flurry of activity to gather together belongings and they were on their way – a happy trio waving goodbyes and sincerely thanking me for their time at The Book Bunker.
What a privilege it had been to spend Melbourne’s first real summer's day in the company of such a proud parent and his motivated, engaging young sons at The Book Bunker.
The eldest son being the first in his family to EVER attend school; is excelling at school and teaching his entire family how to speak English; is being cared for by the expert medics at RCH; and delights in reading books from his 'school library' at his 'hospital library'.
My world has most definitely been enriched by volunteering experiences like this at The Book Bunker - it really is wonderful when your worlds collide!
The very first KidLitVic Meet the Publishers Conference 2016
I spent a hugely enjoyable and inspiring day today at the very first Melbourne ‘Meet the Publishers’ event for Children and YA writers and illustrators. It was organised by authors Alison Reynolds and Dee White, along with the assistance of illustrator Nicky Johnston and author Jaquelyn Muller, and held at the magnificent State Library of Victoria.
The opening address was given by David Ryding, the Director of Melbourne’s UNESCO City of Literature Office, and set the tone for a day of collaboration and inspiration on all things creative in the world of children and YA publishing.
Both established and emerging authors and illustrators were able to attend Panel Discussions from the creme de la creme of Australian publishing, as well as present Portfolio Displays, Manuscript Assessments and 3 Minute Pitches.
The Publishers and Agents represented were: Allen & Unwin; Black Dog Books; Hachette Australia; Hardie Grant Egmont; HarperCollins Children's Books Australia; Jacinta di Mase Management; Random House Children's Books, Penguin Random House; Scholastic Australia; Scribe/Scribble; Text Publishing; The Five Mile Press
Some key themes from the panelists which really resonated with me were:
authenticity and consistency of voice are the cornerstones of good writing
be true to your DNA – don’t try to write or draw in a particular genre, just because it’s the current fad/bestseller
a good story is everything – irrespective of what tense it’s written in
collaboration between authors and illustrators is crucial
a book is a result of teamwork – between authors, illustrators and publishers
publishing is a commercial enterprise – that is the reality
all publishers are different – do your homework before submitting